by Liz Daube
Only two Jacksonville projects are slated to get Florida’s largest historical renovation grants, but the end result should mean $670,000 in upgrades for Brewster Hospital in LaVilla and St. John’s Cathedral on East Church Street.
The State Department of Historical Resources recently released its priority list of 68 projects. Unless the legislature cuts back the $18.89 million planned for historic renovation grants, Brewster Hospital – number 10 on the list – will receive the maximum possible amount, $350,000, to stabilize the building. At number 45, St. Johns Cathedral is slated to get $320,000 for exterior renovations.
The Florida Historical Commission reviews grant applications from around the state and creates the list each year to guide the legislature’s disbursement of the grant money. The funding won’t be available until it gets approval from Tallahassee during next year’s legislative session.
The amount and priority given to Brewster is significant, according to Lisa King, a grant consultant who worked with the City to prepare Brewster’s application. On the other hand, King said, this year was not a huge success for Jacksonville: Only two of the area’s eight private and public grant applications made the list.
“It was very obvious that most of them really liked Brewster,” she said, “(but) I still think we should have gotten more than two.”
The grant program is “extremely competitive,” according to Joel McEachin, senior historic preservation planner for the Jacksonville Historic Preservation Commission. He said a city’s representation among the commissioners can play a big role.
“You’re competing against all kinds of projects across the state, so you’ve got to stand out,” said McEachin. “Sometimes we do well, sometimes we don’t. Duval is not always represented well on the committee.”
King said several factors probably contributed to the rejection of some local applications. Some projects simply aren’t as popular from year to year, she said.
“We (grant consultants) usually see what kind of projects are even in the right posture to apply,” said King, “which ones are frankly, you know, sexiest.”
The best qualities to play up in a historical renovation project right now are “historical hooks,” “underserved population issues” and archaeological projects, according to King. Brewster, for example, is a historic hospital that served African-American patients; the building also survived the Great Fire of 1901. The building has fallen into serious disrepair since 1966, when competition from previously segregated hospitals caused Brewster to close.
King said some types of sites, like historical houses and courthouses, aren’t receiving the same attention they used to. One of the City’s three grant applications this year included a request for the second phase of the old federal courthouse renovations — a project that didn’t make the cut.
“They (the commission) seemed to not be as enthused with courthouse projects anymore,” said King. “The (old, Jacksonville federal courthouse) project has not moved very quickly because it has been part of the City’s figuring out what they’re doing with the county courthouse.”
Two years ago, the state gave Jacksonville $300,000 to clean the 70-year-old federal courthouse’s exterior, but the work has been delayed along with plans for a new county courthouse project.